Return on Investment by College
July 01, 2010, 03:49 PM
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Business Week has a big table attempting to calculate return on investment for different colleges based on the PayScale database of salaries (assuming you pay full fare with no financial aid). Private colleges with high graduation percentages benefit in this calculation.

MIT comes in first and Cal Tech second, both with a 12.6% estimated return over 30 years, followed by Harvard and Harvey Mudd. Obviously, MIT and Cal Tech students are supplying resources (e.g., brains, hard work, etc.) beyond merely their tuition. The top of the list has a lot of Hard Major schools with high percentages of sci-eng grads.

So it's not clear that any colleges are particularly fantastic deals that will turn sow's ears into silk purses.

The rest of the top 10 are Stanford and Ivy League schools, with the exception of Notre Dame being #9, which is interesting. It would be great if somebody could build a multiple regression out of this using old SAT scores and GPAs to see if any college really beats the curve? Does going to Notre Dame get you plugged into a particularly strong alumni network that would benefit you more than if you went somewhere else? That would be a nice thing to know.

Some universities work particularly hard to foster emotions of solidarity conducive to alumni backscratching (and donating). For example, Princeton (#7 on the list) has about 20,000 people come each year to its class reunion weekend in late May. All reunions are at the same time and new graduates come too. Each class wears a jacket custom-made for the reunion. Last year the first ever 85th-year Princeton Reunions old boy, Malcolm Warnock (class of '25), marched in the annual P-rade.

The top public university is Berkeley, followed by Colorado School of Mines (but you have to work in a hole in the ground, so they'd better pay you a lot) and Georgia Tech. Berkeley is a good excuse for talking about a methodological conundrum. Berkeley grads tend to wind up in the Bay Area, which has a very high cost of living, so the real ROI would be less relative to, say, U. of Michigan.

Yet, the adjustments needed are even more difficult. For example, although it costs a lot to more to live in the Bay Area than in Michigan, on the other hand you do get to live in the Bay Area rather than Michigan. And although it will cost a fortune to own a house in the Bay Area, your kids will presumably get to inherit a Bay Area house in 60 or 70 years, which is nice.

How to account for all that in the calculations? Beats me.

They also offer a list of lowest ROI colleges, which tend to be expensive private liberal arts colleges in lower income parts of the country. But maybe you'll wind up marrying a rich family's heir.